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Metals and Downstream

Part of the core sector, metals are driven by downstream industries that are in-turn driven by the economy of a country.

With globalization, companies are now struggling to balance the elements of cost competitiveness, policy regulations in trading, environmental standards, availability of capital and the access to technology.

Current Thinking

Challenges for the Steel Industry

The steel industry has grown significantly in the last decades. Being in the core sector, this could be associated with an overall growth in the global economy. However, every sector has its own set of challenges. Let's try and find out the same.

Materials are, in general, a decisive factor in any innovative exercise. One could come up with many different types of designs; however, it is often difficult to decide the right kind of material that can be used there. To get a better feel of what I am saying try and imagine a situation where an aircraft weighs around 10 kg! This could be possible if it is made of extremely strong foil like material (that is just microns thick). Well, that would save on fuel, one could transport more, and the aircraft itself might be easy to move around... But, at this point in time, we know that such a material doesn't exist... So, this is where the material scientists come into picture.

Steel, one of the most abundantly used materials, is preferred due to the ease of manufacturing, the strength, the costs and the durability. Of course, several other factors also play a role. Our aim here is not to try and list each one of them. Rather, we are looking at a few generic issues. Coming back to our discussion, the industry is, therefore, trying to address these challenges. The aim is to develop a steel that is strong enough and could take in a fair amount of deformation before breaking off. Technically it means a steel with high ultimate tensile strength and high strain at that point. Needless to add, this is a result of several factors like the chemical composition, the phases in the steel, the manufacturing process, etc. One of the best forms of ancient steel is the Qutab Minar pillar. Metallurgists have not yet figured out how the pillar was made. In this example, one gets a good feel for the kind of problems that one encounters in the development of steels. It's easy to guess that this kind of development requires huge efforts and is often difficult to start with. However, with the advent of modern technology, multi-phase steels have been developed. These steels are extremely strong and have very good properties for several applications. However, it is still a long way to go. The dream of every steel maker is to try to bring in that amazing flexibility in the application of the steels. Different companies are trying out different approaches to this problem. For instance, ThyssenKrupp has developed a tough type of steel by gluing two layers of steel. Such innovations are unique, as they combine several different faculties of science and engineering. However, the future is an open playground. Let's wait and see.

Read more of the article here.